US judge grants nationwide injunction to halt Obama transgender policy

Texas Judge Blocks Obama's Transgender Rules

AUSTIN, Texas, Aug 22 (Reuters) - A U.S. judge blocked an Obama administration policy that public schools should allow transgender students to use the bathrooms of their choice, granting a nationwide injunction sought by 13 dissenting states just in time for the new school year.

While a setback for transgender advocates, the ruling is only the latest salvo in a larger legal and cultural battle over transgender rights that could be headed toward the U.S. Supreme Court.

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Following milestone achievements in gay rights including same-sex marriage becoming legal nationwide in 2015, transgender rights have become an increasingly contentious issue in America, with advocates saying the law should afford them the same rights extended to racial and religious minorities.

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O'Connor of the Northern District of Texas, an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush, issued a nationwide injunction siding with the 13 states and blocking the Obama administration's bathroom guidelines on Sunday, the evening before students in much of Texas and some of the other affected states were due back in school.

O'Connor found the federal government failed to provide states sufficient notice and opportunity for comment before issuing the guidelines. He also said the guidelines had the effect of law and contradicted existing legislative and regulatory texts.

The U.S. Justice Department has said the guidelines issued in May were non-binding with no legal consequences.

More on the transgender bathroom policy in North Carolina

10 PHOTOS
Protests against North Carolina transgender bathroom law
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Protests against North Carolina transgender bathroom law
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A display inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features books by authors who support the repeal of HB2 on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A sign next to the men's bathroom inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina denounces North Carolina's HB2 legislation on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
ASHEVILLE, NC - JUNE 21: A bulletin board inside Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, North Carolina features upcoming author visits and events scheduled for the bookstore on June 21, 2016. Malaprop's has had authors cancel and a decline in sales due to North Carolina's HB2 legislation, commonly known as the bathroom bill, and the resulting boycott of the state by authors, athletes and tourists. (Photo by Jacob Biba for The Washington Post via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
UNITED STATES - MAY 16 - Protestors gather across the street from the North Carolina state legislative building as they voice their concerns over House Bill 2, in Raleigh, N.C., Monday, May 16, 2016. House Bill 2, also known as the Bathroom Bill, which requires transgender people to use the public restroom matching the sex on their birth certificate, has received the attention of national media and the White House. (Photo By Al Drago/CQ Roll Call)
DURHAM, NC - MAY 10: The 'We Are Not This' slogan is posted at the entrances to Bull McCabes Irish Pub on May 10, 2016 in Durham, North Carolina. Debate over transgender bathroom access spreads nationwide as the U.S. Department of Justice countersues North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory from enforcing the provisions of House Bill 2 (HB2) that dictate what bathrooms transgender individuals can use. (Photo by Sara D. Davis/Getty Images)
Elaine Martin, right, listens as Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality NC, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
Joaquin Carcano, center, the lead plaintiff in the case, speaks during a press conference to announce filing of federal lawsuit challenging North Carolina's HB 2 law at the LGBT Center of Raleigh on Monday, March 28, 2016. Several different advocacy groups and some of the lead plaintiffs spoke at the event. Joaquin was born a woman and is now a man. Simone Bell with Lambda Law is at left; Chris Brook with the ACLU is at right. (Chris Seward/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS via Getty Images)
TO GO AFP STORY BY BRIGITTE DUSSEAU - Transgender delegates Jamie Shier (L) and Janice Covington pose for photographs at the Convention Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on September 4, 2012. The Democratic National Convention Committee announced Wednesday that US President Barack Obama would move his acceptance speech from the outdoor Bank of America Stadium to the indoor Time Warner Cable Arena due to predictions of thunderstorms. AFP PHOTO / Mladen ANTONOV (Photo credit should read BRIGITTE DUSSEAU/AFP/GettyImages)
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But they were also backed up by a threat to withhold federal education money from states that refused to comply, drawing objections from 13 states, led by Texas, that sued, saying Washington was overreaching its authority.

Some conservatives have fought an expansion of transgender right on privacy grounds or to protect states from federal government overreach.

In test cases around the country, various lower courts have differed in their interpretation on whether anti-discrimination laws apply to transgender people, potentially sending the matter to the U.S. Supreme Court for a definitive resolution.

In May, the Justice and Education departments issued guidance that public schools must allowtransgender students to use bathrooms, locker rooms and other intimate facilities of their choice rather than those matching their gender assigned a birth.

"WON'T BE THE LAST WORD"

O'Connor's ruling is "just one small part of an unfolding process," said Aaron Bruhl, a law professor at William & Mary in Virginia.

"This won't be the last word on this subject, obviously," he said. "There's a decent chance the U.S. Supreme Court could address this issue in the near future."

Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University, said it was "shocking" that O'Connor had applied his injunction to the entire nation, especially since "there's an opposite decision from the 4th Circuit (Court of Appeals) and eight other lawsuits pending."

The Justice Department said in a statement it was disappointed by the decision and reviewing its options. Legal experts expected it to appeal to a higher court, likely asking for a stay that would put O'Connor's ruling on hold until the case could be litigated.

The other states in the Texas-led suit are Alabama, Wisconsin, West Virginia, Tennessee, Arizona, Maine, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Utah, Georgia, Mississippi and Kentucky. Ten other states have sued separately over the guidelines.

The office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a Republican who frequently sues the Democratic Obama administration, said he was pleased with a decision against "illegal federal overreach."

But a group of five civil rights organizations supporting the Obama administration said legal precedent clearly protects transgender students from discrimination, which a single district judge cannot overturn.

"The court's misguided decision targets a small, vulnerable group of young people - transgenderelementary and high school students - for potential continued harassment, stigma and abuse," said the five groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and Lambda Legal.

The judge's decision came about eight hours before Jennifer Campisi took her 9-year-old son E.J., a transgender student, to the first day of school in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. E.J. is not allowed to use the boys' bathroom and instead must use either the nurse's bathroom of the faculty bathroom.

"These policies just keep kids separate and they put unnecessary stress on parents," she said, adding that allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice is the best solutions for all.

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